Volume 75
Number 1

Cinema in black and white

Fostering trade with China

Great Debate

The Visionary

Making a splash

Pitts bequest benefits Candler

A doctoral program for nurses


In Memoriam

From the President


Why do Voles Fall in Love?

The Once and Future Mummy Museum

Got bluemilk?

Pop Culture



From The President

Relishing our differences

T.S ELIOT ONCE REMARKED that a proper education should present students with subjects for which they have no particular aptitude. He meant that education should stretch us beyond what we’re especially comfortable doing and being.

A university is preëminently a place for such stretching, for encountering what will challenge us by its difference. A university is a kind of experiment in learning that is also an experiment in living. The student arriving on campus for her first semester of college is faced with a bounty of otherness, for which she must develop an aptitude. And the unfamiliar territory this student will face includes not merely racial or ethnic differences among fellow students but differences of style, of method, of thinking, of habit and custom in every imaginable combination.

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported that, since 1980, Emory has increased its enrollment of African-American students more dramatically than any other college or university in America.

We make students face a world they have not experienced before, believing that they will thus learn more of the world as it really is. We create for students a place where, we hope, they can take on the broad humanity, the acute perception, and the mental dexterity of citizens of the world. For the world that will await them four years or twenty years down the road will be difficult for them to imagine now.

I was reminded of Eliot’s dictum about education when Emory recently celebrated the work of another American poet, James Weldon Johnson, whose papers now reside in the Special Collections Department of the Woodruff Library. One of the great African-American poets and song writers of this century, Johnson is perhaps best known for the hymn, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and for his novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.

To mark the important addition of Johnson’s papers to our African-American literary collections, the library sponsored a performance of God’s Trombones, Johnson’s verse sermons in the style of traditional black preaching. Eight of the best black preachers in America, all of them from Atlanta, stirred the imaginations and the spirits of the crowd that filled Glenn Auditorium—a crowd comprising equal numbers of black and white. The event was one of those landmark performances that will linger in the memories of the audience for years to come.

Yet it was an event that would have been impossible just a few decades ago, when Emory was prevented by state law from admitting black students. Since those days, Emory has undertaken "affirmative action" not only in admissions and hiring but also in the library’s collections. Adding to its rich manuscript holdings in Irish poetry, Southern literature, the Civil War, and women’s history, the library has begun to collect African-American manuscripts and rare books for their educative power. The performance of God’s Trombones brought home the power of affirmative action in realms where we do not usually think of it. And the performance underscored the degree to which Emory has changed and challenged some old ways of being and doing on this campus.

Last year, a former president of Harvard, Derek Bok, and a former president of Princeton, William Bowen, published an important book called The Shape of the River, the first empirical study of the effects of university Affirmative Action programs. Among the twenty-eight schools studied by Bok and Bowen, students admitted by Affirmative Action have succeeded stunningly in their careers and have become citizens worth emulating.

Emory is one of the universities studied by Bok and Bowen. Thirty-seven years ago, Emory successfully sued to overturn state legislation preventing private colleges in Georgia from admitting black students without losing the University’s tax exemption. Today, no other first-rank research university has a higher percentage of African-American students or faculty. The summer 1998 issue of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported that, since 1980, Emory has increased its enrollment of African-American students more dramatically than any other college or university in America—from 3 percent in 1980 to 10.2 percent in 1996, a 240 percent increase. We are proud of our more diverse campus and the success of our affirmative action in all areas. But there is still much more to do. Given the advantages of a cosmopolitan city, the blessings of strong, historically black sister institutions, and the philanthropic generosity of our alumni and friends, Emory is not yet where we want her to be.

We live in a culturally rich nation, whose multifarious strands of ethnic heritage make it in many ways unique. We have an unparalleled opportunity to help create a civil society that not only tolerates but also relishes our differences. Our differences are our strength. It is incumbent on us to explore this richness together in community.





©1999 Emory University